Family finds gold in piano; government looks to muscle in

The recent discovery of a UK gold cache raises the specter of every-hungry leviathan ruthlessly employing the law to gobble up assets for its own benefit.

Late last year a hoard of gold coins, English sovereigns minted between 1847 and 1915, was found in old upright piano in Shropshire, in the United Kingdom, after the piano’s new owners had it retuned and repaired.

Under the UK’s Treasure Act of 1996, such discoveries are legally obligated to be reported to the local coroner within 14 days, which was done.

The piano was made by a London firm and initially sold in Essex, near London, in 1906. But its ownership from then until 1983 – when it was purchased by a family in the area who later moved to Shropshire – is unknown, according to the BBC. The new owners were recently given the instrument.

The Shrewsbury Coroner’s Court is currently seeking information about the piano’s whereabouts between 1906 and 1983.

There is a great deal at stake as the objects will qualify as “treasure” and be the property of the Crown if the coroner finds they have been hidden with the intent of future recovery, according to the BBC.

However, if the original owner or their heirs can establish their title to the find, the Crown’s claim will be void.

Under the Treasure Act of 1996, ‘Treasure’ is defined as:

  • All coins from the same hoard, with a hoard is defined as two or more coins, as long as they are at least 300 years old when found;
  • Two or more prehistoric base metal objects in association with one another;
  • Any individual (non-coin) find that is at least 300 years old and contains at least 10% gold or silver;
  • Associated finds: any object of any material found in the same place as (or which had previously been together with) another object which is deemed treasure; and
  • Objects substantially made from gold or silver but are less than 300 years old, that have been deliberately hidden with the intention of recovery and whose owners or heirs are unknown.

The government has not detailed just how many coins were uncovered in the piano or their value, but Peter Reavill, Finds Liaison Officer for the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme at Shropshire Museums said, “It is a lifetime of savings and it’s beyond most people.”

I’d be curious to hear what British citizens think about this law. I understand the government’s interest in unique treasures such as the Irish Crown Jewels, spectacular Viking hoards or Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork, when and if they are uncovered.

But what we have here are simple gold coins – even if in a very substantial quantity.

It would be nice to find the individuals or their heirs who secreted the money away inside the piano; the government, meanwhile is threatening, per usual, to overstep its original purpose and strong-arm the family who, through a bit of blind luck, managed to come into possession of the coins.

Government, which already pockets a considerable sum of the average individual’s wages, has no business confiscating a collection of gold coins simply because it’s forever on the lookout for additional ways to line its coffers.

(Top: Some of the gold coins found inside an old upright piano in the United Kingdom late last year.)

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Treasure trove sunk by U-boat recovered in South Atlantic

city of cairo

A British salvage team recently recovered $50 million in silver coins that had rested nearly 17,000 feet beneath the surface of the Atlantic Ocean for more than 70 years, victims of a World War II U-boat attack.

The SS City of Cairo was carrying 100 tons of silver coins from Bombay to England when it was torpedoed 480 miles south of St. Helena, about 2,500 miles east of Rio de Janeiro, by German submarine U-68.

The silver rupees, which belonged to the British Treasury, had been called in by London to help fund the war effort, according to the BBC.

The recovery marks the deepest salvage operation in history.

The City of Cairo was cruising in the remote South Atlantic on Nov. 6, 1942, when the steamship’s tall plume of smoke was spotted by U-68. Captain Karl-Friedrich Merten ordered a single torpedo fired at the vessel, then waited 20 minutes for the 311 passengers and crew to take to the lifeboats before firing a second torpedo.

Merten famously directed them to the nearest land and said: “Goodnight. Sorry for sinking you,” according to the BBC.

While just six of 311 people aboard the City of Cairo died in the sinking, it would be three weeks before any of the six lifeboats would be located, with the last lifeboat at sea for 51 days before being found. During that time 104 of the 305 survivors died.

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Ming ceramics to be fished from ocean floor

Porcelain from the Ming Dynasty – prized for its craftsmanship – was sublime in its beauty, particularly the blue-and-white wares that represented state-of-the-art ceramics.

By the 14th century, the Chinese were mass producing fine, translucent, blue and white porcelain, a development made possible by the combination of Chinese techniques and Islamic trade, according to Robert Finlay in his 2010 work, The Pilgrim Art. Cultures of Porcelain in World History.

The latter was crucial because it brought with it cobalt from Persia.

To get an idea of the rarity of cobalt blue, its value was about twice that of gold. This so-called “Islamic Blue,” when combined with the translucent white quality of Chinese porcelain, produced a highly prized product, Finlay added.

And if the head of a Portugal-based marine-archaeology company has his way, the world will be seeing a great deal of original Ming Dynasty-era porcelain in the coming years.

That’s because Nikolaus Graf Sandizell, chief executive of Arqueonautas Worldwide SA, plans to retrieve some 700,000 pieces of fine bowls, dishes and cups that have sat on the bottom of the ocean for the past 400 years.

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US treasure hunter claims $3 billion strike

A Maine treasure hunter said Wednesday he has discovered the wreck of a British merchant ship torpedoed off the Massachusetts coast by a German U-boat while carrying what he claims was one of the richest cargos ever.

Greg Brooks of Sub Sea Research in Gorham, Maine, said he has found the British steamer Port Nicholson, sunk in 1942 and now sitting in 700 feet of water 50 miles off the US coast.

Brooks claims the vessel, hit by two torpedoes from the U-87, carried a load of platinum bars now worth more than $3 billion.

However, an attorney for the British government expressed doubt the vessel was carrying platinum. And if it was, in fact, laden with precious metals, who owns the hoard could become a matter of international dispute, according to ABC News.

The Port Nicholson was reportedly carrying more than 70 tons in platinum bars, payment to the US from the Soviets for the war effort, according to the New York Daily News.

Platinum is currently selling for around $1,600 an ounce.

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WWII wreck may hold most treasure ever

When the British merchant ship SS Gairsoppa was sunk by the German submarine U-101 in February 1941, she was carrying more than 7 million ounces of silver then worth £600,000, or about $2.5 million.

Today, that treasure, which a Florida-based salvage operation is trying to recover from the bottom of the North Atlantic, is valued at $200 million.

If successful, it would be the greatest treasure find at sea ever, according to officials with Odyssey Marine Exploration.

Monday, Odyssey confirmed the identity and location of the Gairsoppa and cited official documents indicating the ship was carrying some 219 tons of silver coins and bullion when it sank some 300 miles off the coast of Ireland.

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Vast treasure found beneath Hindu temple

In a story more akin to an Indiana Jones’ adventure, investigators have uncovered treasure worth as much as $20 billion or more beneath an Indian temple where it has accumulated for centuries.

Over the past couple of weeks, a seven-member team of investigators has broken into five of six secret subterranean vaults under Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple, discovering repositories filled with sacks of diamonds piled next to tons of gold coins and jewels, according to Reuters.

Other items discovered include a one-foot golden idol of Mahavishnu and a golden “anki” weighing close to 30 kilograms (more than 65 pounds). The golden anki is used to adorn the presiding deity, who is in the eternal sleep posture, according to the International Business Times.

The inventorying of the vaults is being done by a seven-member panel appointed by India’s Supreme Court.

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